So I'm just going to give you my brief impressions: More so than the earlier debates, the Big Three of Edwards, Clinton, and Obama were the clear winners—although, once again, I was impressed with the depth of the field this year. Aside from Joe "Lieberman on Steroids" Biden, who continues to be alternatingly belligerent and passive aggressive, but constantly a douchehound.
With regard to the Big Three, Edwards was a big winner during the healthcare portion of the debate, during which he showed his authentic passion about America's healthcare crisis, talking about a man he met in Appalachia on the last day of his recent poverty tour: "[He was] 51 years old, three years younger than me. He'd been born with a severe cleft palate, and he was proud of the fact that someone had finally volunteered to correct it. … He had not been able to talk until it was fixed. Here was the problem. It was fixed when he was 50 years old. For five decades, James Lowe (ph) lived in the richest nation on the planet not able to talk because he couldn't afford the procedure that would've allowed him to talk. When are we going to stand up and do something about this?"
Obama didn't particularly impress or disappoint me, although Mr. Shakes was charmed by him last night. I can't even remember, honestly, which bits Mr. Shakes really liked from Obama, or if there were any bits in particular as opposed to just his overall vibe. (I think it was the latter.) Though Obama certainly had one of the best lines of the night, when the candidates were asked if they would be willing to be president for the federal minimum wage, and after a few affirmatives, Obama said, bluntly, "Well, we can afford to work for the minimum wage because most folks on this stage have a lot of money."
On the other hand, Clinton really shined throughout the entirety of the debate last night, because she finally let herself really come through during the debate. Perhaps it was the looser format, I don't know. Her best attribute has always been her; she's an amazing woman with a great mind and a quick wit—and that was really on display last night. I've always found her eminently diggable as a person, but not so much as a candidate, until last night. One of her absolute best moments was the one in which she responded to a complaint I have often made—that if she won, it would make for dueling dynasties (Bush Clinton Bush Clinton) in the Oval Office—and her answer completely won me over.
Clinton: Well, I think it is a problem that Bush was elected in 2000. [wild applause] I actually thought somebody else was elected in that election, but, you know... [applause] Obviously, I am running on my own merits, but I am very proud of my husband's record as president of the United States. [applause] You know what is great about this is look at this stage and look at the diversity you have here in the Democratic Party. Any one of us would be a better president than our current president or the future Republican nominee. [applause] So I'm looking forward to making my case to the people of this country, and I hope they will judge me on my merits.
Well played, Hils. Good on ya, grrl.
The last bit of the debate, the "comic relief," in which the candidates were asked to look to their left and say one thing they like and one thing they don't like about the candidate standing there, was pretty funny—and was another winner for Clinton, when Edwards and Obama teased her about her jacket and she had an opportunity to give that full-throated, wicked laugh of hers I love. And she also made a great point about how ready the Democrats are to lead. Richardson got off a good line, too: "You know, let me just say, I love all of the candidates here. In fact, I think they would all do great in the White House as my vice president."